Ordering Truth “Your Way”
Truth is an interesting thing. We love it. We hate it.
Deep down, we all love and need truth. When I refer to “truth,” I’m talking about something being in accord with fact or reality. We want our news sources to be trustworthy. We want doctors to not lie to us when they are diagnosing a disease. We want lovers to truly love us without forcing their feelings. We want scientific studies to honestly report their findings, even if the researchers do not like their conclusions. Our judicial system declares that someone is considered innocent unless their true guilt is proven. And the list goes on.
Yet, curiously, we also often hate the truth. Truth can be inconvenient, making demands on how we ought to live our lives. It threatens our pride and sense of personal identity. When the weaknesses of our most strongly-held convictions are exposed under the impartial, unsympathetic light of truth, our first reaction is often to recoil rather than to repent. For many, uttering the words, “I was wrong… I can see now that you are were right,” prove more agonizing than serious bodily injury. The pain of living a lie somehow becomes more bearable than facing reality.
Social media has only exasperated this problem. It is now so easy to declare our opinions to the world in small, angry, self-righteous sound-bites, that the comments sections of many controversial articles overflow. Sometimes these comments turn into full-on debates. Yet, as common as this is, it is rare to see someone genuinely change their mind and admit to it publicly. Instead, many online conversations end with one party simply getting fed up and walking away. It makes you wonder if the goal was ever really to learn the truth, or if it was merely to vent to other people behind the safety of a keyboard.
The Temptation to Compare Truth to a Cheeseburger
When I think about how people treat the subject of truth, the old slogan for Burger King comes to mind: “have it your way.” We’ve gotten accustomed to ordering things like cheeseburgers however we want them. No tomato? No problem. Lettuce-wrapped bun? It’s yours. Three extra patties? You’d be crazy not to (I’m looking at you In-N-Out)!
We can approach truth in a similar manner. Who hasn’t felt the temptation to ignore inconvenient or unpleasant truths and emphasize only what you like? For that matter, who hasn’t felt the temptation to simply accept what they like as the truth without really thinking it through?
Let me give you an example from my own worldview: the Christian doctrine of hell. I really don’t like this doctrine. There are plenty of messed up people in the world, but I wouldn’t want any of them to be separated from God and under his punishment for eternity. I mean, come on… that’s a VERY long time! Is anyone really that bad to warrant something like that?
Now, as it turns out, there is actually a very good answer to this question (I’m going to write about it in my next article). However, even though it’s an intellectually-satisfying answer and I don’t think God is in the wrong, I still just flat-out don’t like hell. But that’s my problem, not God’s. I don’t think I’m weird for being troubled by the idea of hell, but I can accept that just because I struggle with it doesn’t mean that it’s any less true. This is an area where I’m doing my best to trust God and acknowledge that he’s a whole lot smarter, more just, and yes, far more loving and gracious than I am as well. But wouldn’t it just have been easier to try and make up my own truth? Maybe I could say, as indeed many people around the world do, that there is no such thing as hell and all people are going to be fine in the end. Or I could make up a system to get people out of hell, as traditions even from a Christian heritage have attempted over the ages.
The reality is that truth isn’t like a cheeseburger. We don’t get to customize it and pick out the parts we don’t want. Ordering truth “your way” is basically just another way of saying that you’re ordering a lie.
So, considering our temptation for self-deception and outright manipulation of the truth, how can we deal with this?
Embracing The Freedom to Be Wrong
First, we need to embrace the liberation that comes from allowing ourselves to be wrong. I face this every time I write an article on this blog. I know that if I keep on writing, it’s only a matter of time before I’m publicly shown to be completely mistaken about something. Will that be embarrassing? Probably. Will it be for the best though? Absolutely! It’s as Proverbs 9:8 says: “Reprove a wise man and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser, Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.”
I was just listening to Leah Libresco, a catholic blogger from Patheos.com, explain a very similar idea to this in an interview with Brett Kunkle from Stand to Reason. Leah was involved in a debate team at her college. This team never cared about points… they only cared about if a debate ultimately resulted in your mind being changed or your opponent’s mind being changed. Both were causes for celebration. After all, unless you expected to be the one college freshman that joined the debate team with perfect ideas about everything, wouldn’t you hope that someone else would help you to grow in your understanding over time?
Furthermore, it is often the case that even if truth is hard to swallow, you’re better in the long run for coming to grips with it. Sometimes that truth is even literally difficult to swallow, like when your parents told you as a kid that Broccoli was good for you and made you eat it. You can probably think of lots of examples of when you had wished something was one way but was happier in the end for accepting things as they really were.
So, humbling ourselves and learning to embrace being wrong is a great way to begin making the truth an ally in our lives.
Being Honest About How We Know What We Know (and when we really don’t)
While there are lots of other ideas that I could give, let me suggest just one more practice that has been especially helpful for me: learning to be honest about how you know what you know. If you’re into big fancy words that impress your friends and confound your enemies, this is called becoming more aware of your epistemology.
This practice requires us to become like kids again and ask “why” about everything we believe. Let me use some hot-button issues to make my point. You believe that being a democrat is better than being a republican. Why? You believe that abortion is wrong. Why? You believe that people can define their own gender? Why? You believe that Jesus is God. Why? You believe that God most likely doesn’t exist. Why?
Now, it’s very possible that you have well-defined reasons for your beliefs that I mentioned above, and that’s good. However, once you start getting into the habit of doing this, you may start to realize that you often don’t actually have a grounded foundation for your beliefs. Perhaps you believe that all Christians hate gays. Really? What led you to that conclusion? Perhaps you believe that atheists don’t care about morality. Are you sure? Perhaps you think that the leaders at your church are just power hungry and don’t really care about the congregation. Is that reasonable? Perhaps you think that there can’t possibly be any good arguments that demonstrate that Jesus really rose from the dead. Have you actually stopped to consider any?
Let’s be honest, it’s far easier to get on social media, gather up all our friends who think the same way as we do, and ridicule views that are contrary to ours. It’s also so easy to be offended by a view that we fail to ever ask if there is even a good argument in support of that view. If it bothers us, it must surely just be false, right? That person is just a bigot… or just an unbeliever… or just uneducated… or just a religious wacko… or just OUTRIGHT DUMB… right?
Let’s Grow Together in This!
I’m not talking about any of this to rant about it. I genuinely think that we can all make great strides at being better at seeking the truth! When we care about the truth, we stop having to invest so much energy in maintaining our personal pride. When we care about the truth, people who were previously your opponents become your allies… teammates in a quest to understand reality better. When we care about the truth, we are free to care more about loving others than being right. For that matter, we’ll be able to love others more powerfully than ever before. We’ll finally be able to tell them the truth even when it is hard. It takes a truly loving person to be brave enough to risk a conflict with his friend about something controversial that really matters.
In a world of ridicule, slander, libel, and intellectual laziness, let’s do our part to be peacemakers in these turbulent times. Let’s all come to love the truth, not simply our presuppositions, the echoes of people like us, or our knee-jerk emotions.